Tag: WFWA

Retreating in order to advance

 

 

Sixty Five women (and one man) at the Women's Fiction Writers Association retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Sixty Five women (and one man) at the Women’s Fiction Writers Association retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico

 

Sometimes you just have to.

Retreat, that is.

In order to advance.

So that’s what I did last week. Went on my first ever writing retreat. Four days. The Women’s Fiction Writers Association writing retreat to be specific. WFWA has been two years in the making and this was our first ever retreat to Albuquerque, New Mexico. (I swear, one day I’ll learn to spell this correctly on the first go round – Albuquerque, not New Mexico).

It was a magical, enervating experience, not just to finally meet some of the people we’ve all been friends with for the past two years online, but to simply soak up the joy, camaraderie, support, sharing and gabbing that comes when you meet with others whose goals align with yours.

This was my first retreat: hopefully it won’t be the last. It is SOOO different to a conference, and for me, at least, just what the doctor ordered. And so, without further ado, here is my list of eight reasons why retreating is a way to advance your writing goals.

  1. It’s a chance to unwind, relax, and make no apologies for focusing on your writing. That’s why so many of the 65 of us on the retreat could be found at all hours of the day and night (and really ungodly morning hours), with gallons of caffeine busily tapping away on our laptops or scribbling in our notebooks on our latest works. A silent reverie where mind melding wasn’t even necessary. The communal writing spirit was powering us forward.
  2. The six a.m. writing club! Me, Jess Bylander, Laura Drake, Christine Orchanian Adler
    The six a.m. writing club! Me, Jess Bylander, Laura Drake, Christine Orchanian Adler
    Darynda Jones with the 6 a.m. writing club!
    Darynda Jones with the 6 a.m. writing club!
    Hard at work. Nameless faces writing future bestsellers.
    Hard at work. Nameless faces writing future bestsellers.

     

    2. It’s an opportunity to not sit in “talks” or “lectures” but in actual circles – yep – and talk as a group about that hour’s particular discussion group. Hearing how others dealt with rejection, their writing process, their editing techniques and more, makes you feel less alone. You can share tips, reveal low and high points, glean incredible insight and bond with other writers who have plumbed the same depths as you and danced for joy at similar highs throughout the creative process.

  3. Not your average workshop. The brilliant Barbara Claypole White shares her writing process. (Yes, we're all a bit crazy).
    Not your average workshop. The brilliant Barbara Claypole White shares her writing process. (Yes, we’re all a bit crazy).

     

    3. It’s an opportunity to meet with unpublished writers, debut authors, published authors and New York bestselling authors on an equal footing and NOT be intimidated. You get to schmooze over margaritas (there are lots of them in Albuquerque), chow down over jalapeno-spiced meals (this is New Mexico after all), and talk about everything from writing to whether our pets miss us.  (I think my dog missed me).

    Squee number 1: Me with author Barbara Claypole White!
    Squee number 1: Me with author Barbara Claypole White!
    Squee number 2: Me with author Darynda Jones!
    Squee number 2: Me with author Darynda Jones!
    Squee number 3: Me with author Kathryn Craft!
    Squee number 3: Me with author Kathryn Craft!

     

  4. It’s a reminder that your work MATTERS. That it’s not only permissible but ESSENTIAL to take time out to retreat and focus on your passion: where you can wander the halls or sit on the patio or lounge by the pool and listen to people chat about conflict, protagonists, black moments, publishing deals, agents, editors and all those wonderful buzz words that make you want to jump up and down and proclaim “THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!”
    Margaritas!
    Margaritas!
    More margaritas!
    More margaritas!

     

  5. It’s a way to tap back into your creativity, to discover that your inner four-year-old needs a time out to remind you what matters; where your passions lie and how to harness them and imbue your writing with them. Oodles of thanks to the charming, adorable and brilliant Kimberly Brock for her Tinderbox workshop and making us dance, sing, tell ghost stories and pull out crayons, glitter, stickers, glue and chop up magazine pictures to remind us where our stories came from in the first place and how to keep finding more.
    Discovering our inner four year olds in Kimberly Brock's workshop
    Discovering our inner four year olds in Kimberly Brock’s workshop

     

  6. It’s a way to learn a harsh lesson that it is NOT selfish to spend your time writing. Thank you a billion times over Darynda Jones for your impromptu, impassioned speech about how writing is preparing you for your future career. “You wouldn’t say going to college is selfish, would you?” Darynda demanded of us. And when a New York Times bestselling author tells you you’re not being selfish, you damn well better listen!
  7. It’s a way to make new writing friends and cement bonds with those you have met online. They are the gift that keep on giving. You now know what their real voices sound like when you go back to your life with them online and they critique your pages, cheer you from the sidelines, bolster you when you hit a wall, and repost your silly Facebook memes.
  8. It’s a testament to a few determined souls who believe that there’s a niche in the writing market that has yet to be filled and if you build it people will indeed come. Two years ago a group of determined women including  Orly Konig Lopez, Laura Drake, and Kerry Hall Lonsdale said, “We need a place for women’s fiction writers.” They thought they’d be lucky if WFWA got 100 members. We’re now at 700 plus thanks to the vision of a few hardy souls. Hats off to all the founders for their foresight, insight, passion and dedication. Without you there would be no WFWA, no retreat and no way for me to advance.Onwards!

     

Never Give Up (aka the rejection letter that made me cry tears of joy)

OHI0122-PitchQueryTo blog or not to blog? That isn’t the question.

Honestly, I haven’t blogged in so long because a) I didn’t feel I had anything inspiring to say and b) I made a decision to spend more time writing, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve reworked and rehoned (I know not a real word but I’ve decided to employ it anyway), my first novel and am deep into writing my second.

But I digress.

I’m now about to discuss the title of this blog post (tsk tsk I’m a journalist and I just buried the lede). So back at RWA 2014 Nationals in San Antonio I pitched my book to several agents and editors. There was one in particular who was genuinely excited about my book. I felt a rapport with her. You know that feeling, right? You sit down in the 10-minute merry go round that is pitching appointments and hope your tongue doesn’t swell and you don’t break out in hives as you pitch your darling, your baby, your brilliant story you’ve slaved over to the people who can launch your career.

And this particular agent was wonderful. She not only asked for my partial manuscript she asked me what else I was working on. When I told her she said she was excited about the concept. She said she’d never seen a book about the issue I was writing about. I felt good.

When I got home I sent my partial off two weeks later. And waited… And waited… And waited… You know the drill. Four months went by. Nothing. Not a blip. I was too wimpy to send a follow up. I figured if she hadn’t responded by this point it was probably a “no” anyway. I figured the book gods were laughing at me for wishing she was the one who I most wanted to want my story. Oh well.

As the months dragged on  I was deep into my second novel and also reworking the first one after taking lots more workshops, classes, working with critique partners and continuing to learn. All hail the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and my RWA Chapter LARA, and the Women’s Fiction chapter of RWA and the Pro Org of RWA. I have learned and gleaned and honed and battled and slaved over a hot keyboard with input from amazing minds from Donald Maas, Margie Lawson and the brilliant blog Writers in the Storm and Writer Unboxed  to following the ups and downs of colleagues on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. I am inspired byLiana LeFey’s work ethic, Laura Drake’s sense of humour, Barbara Claypole White’s gin-infused, Doc Martin wearing, garden tending tales, Kathryn Craft’s emotional bravery, Amy Sue Nathan’s generosity, Maggie Marr’s prolific output, Lynne Marshall’s world domination of medical romances, Robena Grant’s determination to carve her own path and her dry Aussie wit, Robin Bielman’s joie de vivre, Betty Bolte’s sumptuous descriptions, Sarah Vance Tompkins and Christine Ashworth’s can-do attitude, Pamela Dumond’s quirky tales (and even quirkier neighbours), Dee J Adams‘ take no prisoners attitude, Claire McEwen – whose success story is my daily inspiration –   and countless other writers who help me sit down and bash out (sometimes awful) words on a page every day.

So when month five rolled around I saw someone had “followed” me on Twitter and said they were working at an (undisclosed ) big agency and I could pitch my story in 140 characters to them. I tweeted. He tweeted back. He was an assistant at the agency of – you guessed it – the person I had now been waiting five months to hear from. He requested a partial. I told him my submission was in fact still with one of his agents and I hadn’t heard back yet. He said he’d look into it and get back to me. He told me he reminded the agent and she said she’d get back to me.

Another month rolled by and I heard nothing. Until today. Firstly, she apologised profusely for taking so long to get back to me. Apparently my submission landed on her desk just days before she gave birth (timing has never been my strong suit) and it’s taken her a while to get back on track.

And then she wrote this:

I jumped eagerly into [title of book], it’s a unique premise and you have a very entertaining voice. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with this story the way I had hoped I would. While there were elements I loved, i.e. the dog, the clean writing, the relatable heroine, in the end I just  didn’t love the execution. This is an entirely subjective opinion. As I’m sure you know this is a business based on personal tastes, and this is purely indicative of that fact. I wish you the best in finding a better suited match for this project.

As I mentioned I think you are quite talented and do hope you’ll keep me in mind for future projects. Please feel free to query me directly in the future should the opportunity present itself.

The first thing I did after reading this was cry. Tears of joy, because it was such a beautiful rejection letter. Weird, I know. But it was so specific and encouraging and everything that many of us wish a rejection letter would be.  And she’d said she would be happy to look at anything else I wrote. So I sent her an email back thanking her for her kind words. I told her I was halfway through my second book and it was the one she had expressed interest in at our meeting when I pitched the first one, and that I would definitely send it to her when it was ready. I also mentioned that in the six months that had passed since I had first submitted to her, I’d done some extensive rewrites on the first book and that as a result I hoped to find a home for it soon.

She emailed me back and said she was thrilled to hear I’d made progress, asked what changes I’d made and that she would be more than happy to have me resubmit it to her.

So there you have it. A wonderful rejection and  an opportunity to reread the new, improved, updated version of my manuscript.  Six months later, the connection I felt with this agent back in San Antonio was still there in these email exchanges. I have no idea whether she’ll take me on when I submit my revamped manuscript. But whatever happens, it’s all part of the journey. I feel I’m one step closer to representation. In the meantime I’ll keep working on my craft and pushing myself to be a better writer.

I know that there are paths to publication that don’t require agents; that there are publishers out there that will take you on without one; that there are a myriad of self-publishing opportunities; that there are lesser known agents at smaller agencies all of whom are hungry and eager to take on first time novelists. I love that there are so many paths and that we have so many choices. Right now, though, for whatever reasons that make me me, I’m still pursuing an agent and the traditional publishing channels.

Hold on to your publishing dreams, whatever form they may take and whatever roads they take you down. But have a solid writing community to back you up whether you’re crying tears of joy or frustration at yet another rejection letter. And keep learning, keep taking classes, keep putting your words on the page and never give up.

The ‘S’ Word, The ‘F’ Word and the ‘W’ Word

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions per se. Jan.1  is just an arbitrary date and most resolutions are set up to fail. But this year I kind of, sort of, had a resolution socked away in the far recesses of my mind. That resolution was (and still is) to find a way to live my life surrounded by the ‘S’ word.

The ‘S’ word in question is suicide. My blog (and my life until now) have remained largely frozen in a time warp that began on October 9, 2013, when my best friend and next door neighbour, whom I saw every day for the past seven years, who was my darling dog’s surrogate “dad” chose without warning or pomp or ceremony to pick up a gun and blow his brains out.

I thought about writing the act more eloquently, more delicately, but he didn’t simply “take his own life,” he did so violently, brutally, and not only knowing that I would find him, but just to make sure I got the message, left me a hand written note. Only me. Not his mother or his brother or his two sisters or his boss or his bank manager. Me. A note addressed to me. A note seared into my brain for the rest of my life. A note that was alarmingly devoid of emotion. Short, sharp, direct with a one sentence explanation that later proved to be unfounded. Even in his final farewell he lied about the true reason behind this senseless, horrific act. Meaning, despite bits and pieces filtering through about possible motives, I’ll never REALLY know what drove him to this. Maybe he didn’t either? But I can speculate till the cows come home. Mostly, these past three months I’ve had to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other; how to get through an hour – let alone an entire day; how to live a life that was turned upside down in an instant.

I couldn’t even post on this blog that my novel had placed second in another writing contest – The Catherine. I received the news just days after my neighbour’s death. But it really was impossible to rejoice in the news at the time.

Thank goodness for all who surrounded me with love and support;  my family, friends, and synagogue community who came to visit, talk, hold my hand, bring food (naturally) and listen to me keen and wail and rant and grieve and sometimes remain catatonic.

I’m looking forward to finally starting back at work next week. But the legacy and the pain and the loss remain. They will linger. I know that. I’m not someone who has been coddled from loss. I’ve had a lot of it in my life – including losing my dad as a teenager. But suicide – that’s a whole other kettle of fish. It’s hard to come to terms with a person who chose to take their own life – especially when you know others who have fought tooth and nail to stay alive while battling cancer. Grief, anger, and a million questions that can never be answered have gone to the grave with my neighbour and best friend. For everyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, I know you know what I’m saying and what I’m feeling and justice cannot be done to those feelings in a brief blog post. But we go on. Like baby foals, we stand on wobbly legs; we fall down, we think we can’t take on the world on our spindly legs, but somehow we find a way. Because we lean on others – we do the one thing the person who decided he or she could no longer live in this world didn’t do – we reach out: to friends, to family, to loved ones, to therapists and our communities. They hold us up until we can walk again and we know they will be there to catch us when we fall – as we inevitably will. Which leads me to the “F” word.

The “F” word reminds me why I don’t believe in Jan 1. resolutions. I had wished with a fervour so strong that it shook my being, that 2013 was behind me. That we could close the door on that chapter. As if a New Year means a new start. I knew it didn’t really. I knew it was just an arbitrary date, but I wished it nonetheless. And Jan. 1 came, as promised. But on Jan. 5 we learned that a dear friend of our synagogue community was killed in a car accident on Jan. 4 and my world came crashing down again. How much grief can one person bear?

And so, today, in just a few hours I will go to a funeral. The “F” word. The funeral of a man with so much love and goodness in the world, cut down in an instant. A place where there will be so much grief and pain, but there will be support and an outpouring of love for him and his family. Unlike my neighbour – whose family chose not to have a funeral for him – I will at least be able to stand with my community and show everyone how much this dear man, killed at the beginning of this “New Year” was loved and how deeply he will be missed.

And so we come to the “W” word, which is, of course, writing. Something I was unable to do for months. But yet, here I am now writing about death and loss and grief.

Before Sunday’s tragic news of my friend’s death, I had been galvanised once more by the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association to get back to editing my novel, thanks to the Write-a-Thin (see the badge?)

Image

that was launched Jan. 1. For the first time I could concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a time and was working hard. Sunday’s news threw me off my game (naturally) and I was back in a well of grief. Everything seemed compounded.

But I do know that I am returning to my version of “normal.” I’m looking forward to returning to work, returning to writing. I’m learning to accept the obvious: that the world is not an easy or a safe place to live in; that there will always be tragedy and grief and challenges around the corner. Learning to keep going is what it is all about. And we do that by making sure we surround ourselves with people who can hold us up when we fall down. And knowing that we will do the same for them. So thank you to everyone who loves me, supports me, and is there for me no matter what. I am here for you, too.

What do you get when you win a contest?

charter oak B-1… a fantastic picture to put on your blog page, that’s what!

See? Isn’t it pretty?

I still cannot believe I just won The Golden Acorn RWA contest in the Mainstream with Romantic Elements Category. Wow! I’m so excited. Not the least because there’s never been anything remotely mainstream about me and most people would say I’m a cynic… not a romantic. And that, my dears, is why G-d invented fiction. Phew.

Along with this winner’s picture, I also get bragging rights. So, no, no big cash prize in this contest but I”ll take my picture and run, thank you.

I’m also thrilled that I’m a finalist in The Catherine RWA contest and posted the highest preliminary round score.

There’s a lot of discussion amongst writers about entering contests: the good, the bad, the ugly (the East German judge – writers you KNOW what I’m talking about!). At the end of the day we all have different reasons for wanting to enter contests. For me, it was about getting people who I didn’t know to give me honest feedback on my work. And that’s excellent. Contests have also galvanized me into being more focused on my process – always a good thing, no?

To this end, I’m also so happy to have found three like-minded writers to form a critique group with (Thank you RWA-PRO loop. So please do go and check out my new critiquers-in-crime – the wonderful Betty Bolte, Shelly Alexander (Shelly, time to get a website/blog or twitter handle, methinks!) and Tereasa Bellew.

I’m also SOOOO excited to announce the official launch of the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association. Just signed up, paid my dues et al. Kudos to the entire team that pulled this fantabulous group together and worked their arses off over the past year to make it a reality.  It’s a much-needed resource/support group for all us WF writers. I’m so proud to be a member.  I believe chocolate, alcohol and high heels are allowed too.

If you write women’s fiction then be sure to join. Not sure what that is – then JOIN and enter into the discussion about what it truly is. The conversations are fascinating. Just know women’s fiction does indeed have women in it. Hey, it’s a jumping off point, right?

Special shout outs to the board – all wonderful writers – the incredible Orly Koenig Lopez, Kerry Lonsdale, Laura Drake, Linda Avellar, Marilyn Brant, Annette Gallant, Steena Holmes and Maggie Marr. Don’t know how brilliant they truly are? Then click here and read each of their bios. 

And on an entirely different note for those of you, like me, in the deep bowels of the High Holy Days, wishing you all a Shanah Tovah, G’mar Chatimah Tovah and may 5774 be a year where your writing soars.